A precious pair of 18th hole birdies in the gloaming at Gleneagles rescued the USA from a potential three-point deficit and kept the 16th Solheim Cup on a knife-edge going into the second day with Europe leading by a single point.
Long birdie putts first from Lexi Thompson and then from Brittany Altomare won crucial half points on the 18th of the PGA Centenary Course and prevented the US from a potentially perilous situation. No team is the Solheim Cup has ever recovered from a three-point deficit on the first day.
Europe had a commanding position when Carolta Ciganda and Bronte Law turned two-down into one-up against Thompson and Jessica Korda going up the last, but the top ranked player in the event had the final say.
US captain Juli Inkster had questionably split up the Korda sisters after they had won handsomely in the morning foursomes, but they still produced a full point between them, although Nelly Korda and Altomare had to battle from four-down with five to play and dormie three.
Altomare’s putt on the last for birdie completed the comeback when both Charley Hill and Azahara Munoz missed chances ot follow her in a secure the point for Europe.
Europe might look on this day as a chance missed, but perhaps the most curious aspect of the play, in front of huge crowds in largely ideal conditions, was how Matthew’s most reliable – and certainly most experienced – pairings were blown away by their young Americans opponents yet Europe still ended up with the advantage.
One imagines that the European captain didn’t expect her foursomes duo Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Caroline Masson – a successful pairing from Des Moines – and the all-Swedish fourball partnership of Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall to be staring down the barrel of a couple of dog licences, but that’s what happened.
The Korda sisters didn’t even have to do very much to earn their eventual 6 and 5 hammering of Ewart Shadoff and Masson. The Englishwoman, not that long returned from keyhole surgery for a back issue, looked completely out of sorts and two-under figures for the 13 holes – including a generous eagle concession at the ninth – was all the siblings required.
Rookie and eleventh-hour call-up Ally McDonald paired with Angel Yin, a debutant last time, and were worth every bit of their 7&5 smashing of the Swedes. Birdies are the only decent currency in fourballs and the Americans had seven to the European’s zero in the first 11 holes for an inevitable and unassailable seven-up lead.
The Swedes also avoided the dreaded 7&6 with their only birdie of the day at the 12th but lost on the next hole, equalling the record loss in the event.
In other circumstances such heavy defeats by seasoned campaigners might have been demoralising – certainly they were something for Inkster and the Americans to hang on to – but while the scoreboards otherwise showed more modest margins in blue, that colour was still in the ascendancy.
The opening match of the day, starting at first light in perfect if cool conditions at a first tee every bit as atmospheric as it had been in 2014 at the Ryder Cup – arguably better due to the absence of the dreaded “Guardian” fans –Law and Ciganda fought their way to a half, the Spaniard’s 25-foot putt at the 16th being the key after Marina Alex and Morgan Pressel had wrestled a late lead.
The other two foursomes went Europe’s way narrowly, but decisively. Lexi Thompson suffered her first defeat in a Solheim tie since her debut in 2013, edged 2 and 1 by Georgia Hall and rookie Frenchwoman Celine Boutier, who perhaps gelled better than any pairing on either side in the morning.
Hull and Munoz didn’t have a birdie as a foursome until the 13th and that got them back to five-over for their game against struggling rookie duo Megan Khang and Annie Park, but it also gave them a one-up lead and they too closed out at the 17th.
McDonald and Yin’s dominance over the Swedes gave the USA an early platform for the afternoon, and Suzann Pettersen, as largely expected with so little golf behind her, was not looking the greatest in partnership with Van Dam against Danielle Kang and Lisette Salas, twice failing to get out of fairway bunkers at the first attempt.
But the Norwegian nailed a huge putt across the third green to take them one-up, and then stood back as the hugely impressive Dutch girl went on a tear with three birdies in four holes from the sixth to take the pairing four-up. A birdie at the 16th confirmed a 4 and 2 win.
“I had the best partner in the world out there,” said Pettersen. “A superstar who just bombs it, so even if I wasn’t on the top of my game, that’s where you have to scramble, make your birdie every now and again, and stand back and cheer her on.”
Hull and Munoz, paired again for the afternoon, chose the short sixth as their springboard as well, jumping ahead and sharing the load with key birdies to build a four-up lead over the younger Korda and Altomare, abut they were unable to hold on down the stretch.
Inkster had surprisingly split up the sisters after their morning success, putting Jessica with Thompson against Law and Ciganda, and it was the most fluctuating contest of the long day.
The US were up four times only to be hauled back and the European three times, and a run of three successive birdies from Law and Ciganda turned a two-down deficit into a one-up lead for the last.
But Thompson’s curling birdie putt from 20 feet after Law had narrowly missed from just outside her rescued a half to make her captain’s decision look sound.